His wide eyes shadow my every move, veins throb in his neck. A look I’ve seen numerous times. Lying stomach-down, each limb bound to the table I bolted in place. He shakes, sweat plastering cropped hair to his skull. The acrid smell of urine and sweat fills my soundproofed basement. An odor I’ve learned to ignore. Can he? I’ve never asked them, not even the ones who lasted a while.
He struggled at first, like they all do, but the bonds are too tight. Any background noise will ruin what I need. The ball gag is slick with saliva but muffles the sounds. Situations like this remind me that humans are animals—base, instinctual creatures. We’ve grown arrogant because we have thumbs and big brains.
He started with questions. Like a dentist talking to a patient, I understood every word—and ignored him. Then he begged, pleaded. Cried. Screamed.
They’re all the same. Except for one thing. Everyone’s sound is unique. Pitch and timbre, guttural groan and rasping breath, final gasp and last exhalation.
I caress his salty hair. His body slouches. “Almost over,” I say. “I’m going to make you famous. Promise. I know talent when I hear it.”
With two more steps, I’m hunched over my laptop. It’s a simple workstation, but it does the job. A few keystrokes later, and I’m ready. I hit the record button. My thumb taps the mic mounted to the short boom base and levels jump to yellow. I set it on the ground, tilt the mic toward his face. I unstrap the ball gag and pull it free. A strand of spittle connects his lips to the ball in my fist, then falls. The carpeted floor darkens under each drop.
He chokes. Levels jump on my screen. They touch red. There will be some distortion, but I’m fine with that.
“Please.” It’s between a whisper and a rasp, his throat long ago rubbed raw. “Please.” He’s said it countless times, at first a plea for freedom. Now that he’s accepted his fate, this solitary word is still a plea for freedom—just a different kind.
I glance at the mic. Still in position. I climb onto the table, planting one knee on either side of his rib cage. His shortened breaths register on the screen, levels in the yellow, dropping closer to green where they need to be.
I’ve taken almost everything I can from him These final moments are ones I can never go back and capture again. I let out a long breath. I wrap my hands around his neck. My fingers search, finding their targets. My muscles tense, all my attention on the screen. My grip tightens, squeezing. Little bursts of color in the levels mirror the sounds under me. My languid breaths contradict the staccato rhythm of his gasps. My body stills, except my fingers.
A meter on the screen measures time. Approaching one minute. Not long now. I hold my breath as he lets out his last exhalation.
I slide to the floor and return to the computer. I press the space bar to stop recording. I transfer the file to my flash drive. A smile twists my lips as I head upstairs, drive in hand.
In my studio, I make quick work of loading the files, manipulating them so they’re ready for use. I swivel and face my keyboard. Pressing the key, his last breath spills from the speakers. I hold the note, bending the pitch up then down, layering it into the nearly finished song.
Almost there. A few more tries and I have it.
To my left, three phonograph statues proclaim “Best New Age Album.”
This will give me number four.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.